¶ … Learning in Organizations
This assignment is a review journal for the book 'Continuous Learning in Organizations: Individual, Group, and Organizational Perspectives', by Sessa & London (2006).
Preface & Preliminary Material
I like to read the introductory material for books before diving in. It gives one a hint of the author's personal thinking, motivations, and other insights. In this preface the authors explain how the book was put together, with the input from individuals as well as corporate involvement, including 'focus' or discussion groups addressing the topic of 'Continuous Learning: what does it mean?'.
I found this statement about the rapidity of ongoing change to be thought-provoking: 'These changes raise the potential of rewards for those with insight' (Sessa & London, 2006: ix). The authors define learning for each of the three categories (individual, group, and organization), and talk about its importance. They also state that their purpose is 'to communicate the meaning and value of learning'. As well, the significance and impact of continuous learning upon the individual, the group, and the organization were addressed, analyzed, and evaluated in the process of preparing this textbook.
Chapter 1: The Meaning of Continuous Learning
The preface states that Chapter 1 describes the authors' concept of continuous learning at the three levels and presents a systems model of 'adaptive, generative, and transformative learning' (Sessa & London, 2006:xi). I feel that the chapter began oddly (which the authors acknowledge) in that they started by saying 'learning is risky'. As an individual, I find learning to be fun, as well as positive on many levels, but the corporate perspective on the 'riskiness' of learning was rather interesting. Essentially, the corporate perspective was that employees might ask questions and think for themselves, instead of being 'obedient robots' and that can be threatening and down-right difficult for an organization. This would particularly be the case if it were the old-fashioned 'patriarchal' type of corporation. On the other hand, one would think such a corporation wouldn't 'buy in' to continuous learning unless at least some of the upper management were on board with the concept. As well, the authors address learning from a group perspective, and this too is interesting; they say we are not used to 'group-think'. I believe the important aspect in this context relates to working as a team, thinking and learning about how to better serve the company, or even how best to do a given task.
As part of their 'multi-level contingency theory of continuous learning', Sessa & London (2006:4) break learning into categories: adaptive, generative, and/or transformative, and state that there are both barriers to continuous learning, and solutions ('interventions') to overcome these barriers. Using a 'systems' approach, they point out that the individual affects the group, the group affects the organization, and all three are each impacted by the other two. The systems approach to continuous learning, as I understand it, is that continuous learning needs to be perceived both piecemeal and simultaneously from each perspective in order to gain a real understanding of both the dynamics and the actuality of what continuous learning is and how it functions.
What Sessa & London (2006) are presenting so far is an analysis of the whole picture of learning within an organization, breaking that structure into its component groups, and breaking the group structure into the component individuals. This is not a discussion about what I do in learning on my own, at home with a cup of tea reading about faraway lands, but how my actions in continuous learning impact not only the organization where I am employed, but also as my group of cohorts. Simultaneously however, the perspective includes how my group of cohorts impact my learning, and then how we as a group affect the organization. There are two final points in this chapter, one is the importance of feedback and/or assessment, and the other is the authors' presentation of 'expert opinions' (Sessa & London, 2006:14). I found it humorous that Cindy McCauley pointed out that all learning is by nature 'continuous', so the phrase 'continuous learning' is a misnomer or perhaps redundant.
Chapter 2: Understanding Individual Continuous Learning
From the introduction to the chapter, I see it is clarified that the book is indeed focused on organizations, as this chapter about the individual is again focused on learning in organizations. A focus is on a supportive environment for learning, with ongoing assessment, as the learner changes during the process. The authors' emphasize that learning results in a change based on the knowledge acquired; this 'deepening and broadening' from the newly acquired knowledge also affects both the group and the organization. A particular distinction is made here, and was described earlier, between learning 'about', or purely academic/theoretical knowledge, and learning 'how', or more applicable and technically useful knowledge (Sessa & London,...
My understanding is that this might be something as simple as a penalty for being late - the employee learns this behavior is not tolerated. In contrast, generative learning is purposeful' (Sessa & London, 2006:24); this would include training programs and workshops, and the authors' state again that learning should be monitored and evaluated.
Transformative learning for the individual literally 'transforms', and a good example is given comparing a person with a wholly rural background with a person who has moved frequently throughout life: the experiences of the latter 'transform' their perspective and worldview. Transformative learning is stated by the authors' to include both reflection and experiences. However, these would seem to be also a part of both adaptive and generative learning as well, I think, as one cannot actually 'learn' without reflection, and it is experiences that are a part of that learning that may induce reflection. Specifically, the person who is continually late on the job cannot adaptively learn to be on time as required unless they reflect and process the experience of being penalized for being late, or realize they may lose their job. I disagree with the authors' representation of adaptive learning as being mostly or wholly an unconscious process. Similarly, generative learning in training programs would be useless if the individual failed to reflect on the process of training and learn from the experience.
The final topic of this chapter is 'feedback', and examples are given of how feedback at the individual level can be deleterious, especially in a one-on-one situation, and/or if no information is provided as to how to actually 'use' the feedback. Sessa and London (2006:33) discuss 'feedback orientation' of an individual as an important factor.
Chapter 3: Individual Characteristics Affecting Continuous Learning
In this chapter, the authors' begin by discussing how personal traits affect learning, particularly at work. Apparently, high-level corporate executives look for an ability to learn on the job when considering individuals for promotion; those who can learn from their own errors in judgment and from mistakes, as well as those who are not closed-minded, fare well in terms of being considered for upwards mobility. If this is generally true about promotions, it's in contradiction with early material implying corporations might resist continuous learning as being threatening to the 'status quo'. Perhaps it relates more specifically to managerial types and/or individuals in such positions being expected to be learners, but not the more ordinary employee.
Factors involved in successful learning include: 'psychological development'; 'personality'; 'motivation and readiness to learn'; and 'learning styles and tactics' (Sessa & London, 2006:38). The individual's stage of development is an important factor in how they learn, whether personally or in an organization, and as a focus of this text, organizational learning and individual development are considered. The stages of life are discussed, and correlations with age and life-circumstances for the individual are shown to affect their perspective about social, work, and personal goals. Development in terms of consciousness is also presented (Sessa & London, 2006:46).
Discussing development 'as a progression of increasing complexity', the authors' describe five levels, with the first two being young children, and adulthood development beginning in the 3rd level. Oddly, they say that in the 3rd stage 'there is no 'self' independent of 'other people', which I wholly disagree with. No data or statistics are presented, just a generalization that certainly doesn't fit with my own experience(s). This model then moves to levels four and five, with development seemingly being related to 'work' and the organization. The authors further define most adults in the United States as being at the 3rd level, 'waiting to be told what to learn' (Sessa & London, 2006:51). This is in contrast with organizational needs for adults at or beyond the 4th level, the ability to think on one's own. I find it rather depressing and distressing that the authors' have such a low evaluation of individuals, and wonder where and/or on what…
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